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By Kerri Maurina

One trend gaining a lot of buzz in the office environment is the use of exercise balls as chairs. Advocates say you can improve posture and stability and burn more calories through this method of seating. But before you rush off to your local sporting goods store to pick up a ball, let’s look at the facts.

The results are in, and several studies have concluded that there is no advantage to using exercise balls to replace office chairs. Studies have found that whole-body discomfort scores were significantly higher after one hour of sitting on an exercise ball compared to an office chair. The main reason is that exercise balls do not provide lumbar support while office chairs do.  When sitting for long durations, it is important to maintain contact with the lumbar support. This decreases the amount of work performed by the back muscles to keep you upright, reducing stress, fatigue and discomfort.

From a physical fitness perspective, exercise balls have positive benefits such as improving balance, muscle function and activating your metabolism. These benefits are observed when the exercise ball is used for short durations. Long durations can lead to discomfort. Sitting on the round exercise ball for a long period creates pressure points that cause soft tissue compression and poor circulation. A proposed solution is to change positions on the exercise ball to reduce compression; however this causes most people to become unbalanced, ultimately falling off. There are also safety concerns associated with sitting on an unstable surface and an increased risk of injury if used improperly. In comparison, when office chairs become uncomfortable, you can easily adjust your posture without worrying about falling off.

The bottom line is exercise balls have many benefits, but only when used properly. They should remain in the fitness center (hence the name “exercise” ball) and should not be a substitute for an office chair.